O, Mighty Seas!
What life you have given, and recompense you will take!
You are the God-Father whose majesty we honor,
To whom our war-captains are grateful and beholden.
The Sea People, sometimes Sea Peoples or Sea Farers, are the humans and humanoids who trace their cultural lineage and bloodlines to the first human settlers on the southern edge of the continent—the First Men. Their culture is one of ambition and voracity, which might explain how they came to occupy so much land on the southern and western shores of Parinaktan, and why their mother tongue, Thalasmil, is a widespread second language and language of trade. But that culture has a darker side: one of conquest and plunder, of razing and looting, and of enemies over every horizon.
The Sea People say that the First Men sailed out of the eastern mists on the Voyage Without Beginning and sighted land on the southern coast of the continent now called Parinaktan. They found the shore to be rocky, with plenty of shelters; they found the soil to be forgiving, fitting for a place to call home. So they did, and they fished and they farmed and they grew. Soon, they were thriving. The city of Hupolis was, truly, among the first of its kind: a walled city with a strong agricultural base supporting a city of craftsmen and traders.
But it wasn’t enough.
The Sea People pushed northward, toward the Old Forest, edging ever closer to the dangerous predators and strange creatures that lurked within, until finally they could grow no closer. For years, the Sea People hunted and skirmished and struggled at the edge of the forest until Tyra the Warbringer, first daughter of Chief Axies and first Tyrant of the Seas, taught them the ways of war. Within a year, the Sea People had driven the hostile spirits and prowling beasts of prey from the forest by bringing to bear their physical strength, human cunning, fiery hearts, and Tyra’s warrior discipline. And in doing so, they had also discovered something mighty and terrible: conquest.
Tyra the Warbringer would later bring conquest to the Sea Peoples’ dwarven neighbors to the east, burning and looting their capital city. Drunk on power and awash with wealth, she would embark to found the city of Tyrapolis on the distant Island of Birds.
In crossing from the east coast to the land that would become Tyrapolis, however, were sewn the seeds of Tyra’s fall. On Toyipsios, the rocky island thrust out of the south sea and thousands of feet into the air, an enclave of corrupted men who fed on blood and preyed upon sailors watched as she passed.
Tyra would spend many years in her city, teaching its people the ways of seamanship and war, until word reached her that the vampires of Toyipsios had begun raiding and plundering the coast—her coast. She raised a navy and her finest companion warriors and sailed for Toyipsios… and her doom. Tyra was slain in the battle and her companions scattered.
The immediate aftermath of her death was a shattering of the political bonds of the Sea People that would never fully recover. Without a leader whose strength the warriors of Hupolis and Tyrapolis could respect (and with no planned succession), the cities became independent, effectively governed by their local officer-chieftans. Chief Sarkos of Hupolis, hoping to take advantage of Tyrapolis’ loss of its finest warriors, led an invasion of the city. He was repulsed, and for his efforts many of the lesser outlying cities on the coast declared their independence from Hupolis.
The Sea People would continue to grow, to settle new coasts, and to raid their neighbors. Their numerous city-states continued to grow in wealth and power, occasionally forming leagues and constantly warring with each other. Only four times in their history have the Sea People united under the same banner. The legendary heroes able to unite their people are known as the Tyrants: Tyra the Warbringer, Toth Son-of-Ixos, Deadly Krossa, and finally, Yjax I and his son, Thrask the Warlord.
Yjax I rose to prominence on the back of a tidal wave of wealth. He was born into an old and powerful family, and he was astute and strong enough to turn that wealth into a well-armed and impeccably-drilled core of companion warriors—and then to raid and loot and plunder until he was the most powerful man in the world. He took an elven woman to wife, and their son, Thrask the Warlord, was groomed for succession. In Yjax’s final act of cunning, he raised and educated Thrask himself in the utmost secrecy. By the time Yjax died, Thrask was still just on the cusp of adulthood—but as a half-elf, half-man, that meant he already had 30 years behind him. And he had spent every one of those years under the tutelage of one of the most capable warriors mankind had ever seen.
The day of Yjax’s funeral, Thrask declared himself the Tyrant of the Seas. It was brazen and impudent, and the gathered lords met the proclamation with amusement—until Thrask defeated twenty challengers, back-to-back, in single combat.
Thrask the Warlord immediately raised his armies and marched for the nearest conflict, a brewing showdown between the halflings of Cura and the Aquamvolanti, the mighty dragons of the seas. Although Thrask’s army was forced to withdraw from its first encounter, they would make an end-run and sack the very homeland of the Aquamvolanti.
And, as befitting of tradition, Thrask would return with his spoils to found Heliopis. But, also like Tyra, his self-indulgence blinded him to the growing threat: the Orcs. They came in the night, falling on the great city of Gralinth in enormous waves. The city was able to hold out for mere days before the mighty orc hordes overwhelmed their defenses and sacked the city.
So now, Thrask waits in Heliopis. Already he has summoned the largest army mankind has ever gathered, but still more arrive. He drills his men, confers with his war council, and sharpens his sword, for he intends to drive the orcs back… and then to show them the meaning of conquest.
The Sea People have built four great cities and several lesser ones, each its own polity, and each with a distinct culture and history.
Hupolis is one of the oldest and wealthiest cities on the continent, but its grandeur is best measured in its sheer size and its military might. The dense inner borough of the city covers several square miles and is built almost completely from the hulls of decommissioned ships, their masts forming a skyline of thick wooden beams and hempen rigging.
The city is governed by the Admiralty, the body of every legally-qualified captain who calls Hupolis their home port. They elect from amongst themselves a Port Commander whose authority is, theoretically, absolute. But the military forces of the city are provided by the captains, their knights and companions, and their men-at-arms, so the Port Commander can only rule on a strong political foundation.
Tyrapolis was founded as a grandiose exhibition of wealth, but flourished as a trading city. The grand temple at the center of the city is built from the very gems that were looted from the Dwarven kingdom by Tyra herself—including the north tower, fashioned out of a single vein of pure emerald.
Tyrapolis was able to repel Sarkos’ invasion, but the military losses were too great for the city to sustain its traditional hierarchy, and the military governance collapsed. Out of the ashes rose the Order of the Emerald, the first known chivalric order, dedicated to the defense of justice and the guardianship of the downtrodden. They represent one seat of the Enclave, whose other seats are populated by the representatives of the various guilds and other religious orders of the city, and whose Master is “chosen by the citizens,” a phrase that carries different meanings at different times.
Gralinth is—or was—a colorful city built on imported stones and bustling trade. Originally founded as a simple trade outpost, it grew rapidly into a center for commerce between the halflings, elves, and men of Afon (when raiding parties weren’t using the city as a base from which to pillage those peoples, of course). The powerful spirits in the forests made it difficult to harvest lumber, so the city is nearly entirely made of stone.
Gralinth’s political landscape was long dominated by the wealthy mercantile elite, who would occasionally swear fealty to upstart warrior-kings. But a warrior’s power wanes as his strength fails him, and the merchants’ money would always outlast their lieges. The city was recently sacked, however, and a huge number of its citizens taken as slaves by the newly risen Orc horde. The old political order has been swept away, and in the ashes of the city there are many who seek to rebuild it… in their preferred image.
Heliopis is the newest of the great human cities and Thrask’s grand showpiece following in his first conquests. It was built atop the ruins of the Halfling city Cura, or rather, around those ruins. Thrask ordered the old fortifications to be torn down and moved father outward, and the new city is growing in the space between the new outer wall and the ruins of the old city. As for the ruins themselves, Thrask has rebuilt the palace, and his army is currently camped in the vast ruins around it while they gather their numbers for battle.
The Sea People are widely diverse owing to their long history, wide geographical spread, and relationships with their many neighbors. There are some commonalities, though, especially as they relate to their shared heritage as the descendants of the First Men.
Death is chief among the deities of the Sea Peoples, personified as the pale and alluring goddess Thania. She is always depicted with closed eyes, for to meet her very gaze is to die. She is graceful, decorous, and uncompromising. So powerful is she that she has struck down a few of the other gods herself, namely Cyra, the Goddess of Eternity; and Ralis, the War-Father.
So to the Sea People, death is a daily act of divinity, a reminder of the beauty and grandeur of the world and Thania, its ruler. All religious services are carried out during funerals, making each person’s funeral a public event (if there are no dead to bury, as is often the case in towns and villages, a service may be administered alongside a mock funeral). To witness a death is holy, and to bring death as a warrior is seen as a form of worship, but to bring death capriciously—to murder—is an insult and a heinous crime, which can only be made right with a just execution (usually by beheading).
Men and women amongst the Sea People are not considered adults until they have witnessed a death, human or otherwise. This is often an execution or a hunting expedition during the child’s teenage years so that when the child has reached physical maturity they are ready for the mantle of adulthood.
At Thania’s [LN] side are three major deities: Exus, God of Warriors [LG/N], Iva, Goddess of the Spirit [N], and Hral, God of the Seas [N]. Beneath them are twelve lesser deities:
Funerals are usually administered by the Temple of Thania, the most powerful religious organization in the great cities of the sea. Independent temples, small and large, exist for all of the major and minor deities, though none command public attention quite so much as the Temple of Thania.
The great cities of the sea are home to people of all walks of life, but all of those people live and die by the sea. Their bustling economies rest on the backs of their great merchant fleets and the swiftness of their longship raiders.
Although each city and each town might have a different formal structure for its governance, the society is so shaped by old wealth and power that their politics look remarkably similar. All of the cities have some form of military power in permanent residence—perhaps not a standing army, but the combined forces of the raiders, mercenaries, and armed merchant ships (present in nearly every last settlement) represent something similar. Some are hired directly into the city guard while at port, while others are called upon in times of unrest or in defense of the city, often in exchange for political favors. And sometimes, that body of warriors plays a more active role in the politics. While “raiding” within the city is considered dishonorable at best, it can be seen as a justifiable punishment for an overreaching noble, and many savvy warrior-princes have made their names doing just that over the years.
The nobility of the Sea People are the old merchant and warrior families. These families usually engage in long-distance trading and land ownership in the feudal style, whether they were catapulted into wealth by a legendary raider or slowly amassed it over generations of shrewd dealing. Not many continue to raid and plunder, although there exist a few famous examples, like Yjax I.
Beneath them on the totem pole is the diverse body of merchants and craftsmen. Most make out a fine, if hectic, living by traveling frequently and plying their trade wherever it suits them best. Many aspire to greatness, though those that can often turn to the sword as the faster, though far more dangerous, path to wealth and glory. As this class of traders and warriors is so geographically mobile, it’s the most visible, and when an outlander speaks of the “Sea People” they are very often referring to this group of people.
Finally, as with all societies, there exists a huge agricultural base. The wealthier members of this class are fishermen: boats are expensive to own and operate, but there are great rewards in a good catch. The rest farm the fertile soils of the coast, riding out the droughts and the blights and living under the protection of feudal warrior-lords. They have frequent contact with the merchants and craftsmen of the cities thanks to the mobility of those people, and will often play host to a raiding party preparing to sortie by land.
The Order of the Emerald is a knightly order in Tyrapolis dedicated to the ideal of justice and the defense of the innocent. It is so named because its founding member, Penelope of Llewyn, administered her knights’ first oaths in the north tower of Tyra’s palace.
If only it were so simple to truly describe the Order’s place in the world.
The Order is situated in the heart of one of the oldest wealthiest cities in the world, and one with a fearsome reputation for its warriors and raiders. There is nothing just about the archetypal raid, and it is, in the purest sense, exploitation of the innocent and defenseless. This places the Order directly at odds with some of the most powerful men and women in the world, and indeed, the Order has undone many raiders and even several would-be Tyrants in counter-sieges, pitched battles, and even ambushes.
It survives against the odds thanks to its unique popularity with the people of Tyrapolis, political support from the city’s new and old wealth, and long tradition of martial expertise.
The Order is well-endeared to the people of Tyrapolis thanks to its long history, full of storied defenses of the city and philapthropic efforts quite unlike the usual warriors of the seas. Its lower-ranking members serve as the city guard and have a reputation for even-handedness where other cities’ watches do not. Additionally, its efforts against raiders and pirates earn it gratitude from the enormous mercantile sector in Tyrapolis, which depends on clear straits and healthy relations with other peoples to continue to thrive—relations which are threatened every time a raiding party torches a monastery or carries off hostages into slavery.
The Order is headed by a Grandmaster, whose duties include the administration of the knightly oaths and overseeing the military organization the Order. The Grandmaster has several lieutenants, including the Master-at-Arms (responsible for law enforcement in Tyrapolis as well as discipline within the order), the Master of Theology (responsible for all non-military aspects of the order, including its record keepers and chaplains, and representing the Order in formal political and public functions), and the Quartermaster General (responsible for the Order’s considerable material resources). Beneath them in the hierarchy are the customary ranks of officers. The lowest rank for knights who have been properly initiated into the order is that of Lieutenant.
The Order, and particularly its current Master of Theology, Alexos the Giant, is involved in a long-standing theological dispute with the Temple of Thania over the legends and character of Exus, God of Warriors. The specific doctrines involved can be complicated and obtuse to all but the most serious of theologians, but the heart of the disagreement is whether Exus is to be seen as an impartial arbiter of Thania’s death on the battlefield, meting out victory to the strong and death to the weak, or if he himself fights for justice. The latter, which is the position of the Order of the Emerald, implies that he is powerful enough to be peer to Thania and have a say in who receives death—a radical heresy in the eyes of the Temple of Thania. The Temple itself has been reluctant to formally accuse the Order of heresy, however, as the customary punishment for heresy is death, and the Temple does not wish to ignite a military conflict amongst the Sea Peoples. Thrask the Warlord is preparing to bring the military might of the Sea Peoples to bear against the Orcs, and he is not known to be forgiving to those who would interfere with his plans.